Yesterday I arrived at my house to find my children hooting with laughter as they scrolled down a list of fake country names created by my daughter’s classmates. How often do kids stay up late working on an assignment that is so entertaining?
Of course, making up amusing names does not sound like an assignment that requires too much content knowledge or critical thinking.
But that’s not what this is about. My daughter’s Civics teacher has registered his classes on the NationStates website for a year-long project. Making up a name was just the first step. Each student had to select a form of government, primary industry, religion, wildlife, level of militarization, legislative system, etc. Based on their choices, students’ countries are rated on multiple scales. Some are quite humorous. For example, the fishing industry is rated on a “Nemo depletion scale” and the ranking on how many people believe in God is measured in “Dawkins.” My daughter and her 8th grade peers will get the Nemo reference, but might have to run a search to find out who Richard Dawkins is. I could not stop giggling over this one in particular.
Once the students establish their countries, design flags, and generally have lots of fun making up currencies, languages, city names, and everything else, they start making choices that change their country. Basically, the kids become all three branches of government rolled into a single person. Last night, my daughter had to decide whether voting should be compulsory. She was given three quotes from three different people spread out a wide swath of the political spectrum. We discussed each quote and what the implications were. I reminded her of items we have read or heard in the news, and I hope she made a thoughtful choice.
While this website was created as a promotional tool for a novel, it does provide an incredible non-traditional educational opportunity. Rather than reading about the functions of government in a textbook, students are wielding incredible power over their fictional countries and populations. As the website says, students have total control. They can “…care for its people. Or deliberately oppress them. It is up to you.”
I am as excited about my daughter’s country developing over the course of the year as she is. I would love to see what kids in Goochland do with this website, too.